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Bonobos debuts women's collection, male allyship campaign

"The whole concept of male allyship is sort of the next phase in this fight toward gender equality," CEO Micky Onvural said.

LAS VEGAS — To celebrate women's history month, Bonobos is following up on a gender-bending campaign last summer with a new message focused on male allyship.

"The whole concept of male allyship is sort of the next phase in this fight toward gender equality," Bonobos CEO Micky Onvural told Retail Dive in an interview at the Shoptalk retail conference Tuesday. "How do we educate, encourage and empower men to raise women up?"

The campaign, which launched Monday, also heralds in the first women's collection for the men's brand built on chinos. The five-piece collection includes two shirts, two shirt dresses and a jumpsuit all modeled after its popular Riviera print. Forty percent of the proceeds will be donated to Promundo, a Brazilian organization that helps educate men and boys about gender equality and violence prevention.

"I'm not going to lie, it will be interesting to see what the reaction is to the women's product," Onvural said, but for now there aren't greater plans to dive into the category. "If you're going to engage a female audience and a male audience on women's history month it felt strange to not have something they could engage with on a product level," she said. "It gave us an opportunity to give back through the product sales through Promundo, so it was really more of an application of the idea and really activating it and not just talking about it more than anything else."

The campaign tapped celebrities and activists who work on gender equality to serve as brand ambassadors, including Journalist and Activist Noor Tagouri, Actor Darren Criss, Fashion and Beauty Director Julee Wilson, Actor and Writer Tommy Dorfman, father and daughter business partners Rachel and Rick Antonoff and Author Michael Kaufman.

There's also an educational piece of the campaign. Together with Promundo, Bonobos created a male allyship playbook. "What we have found is very often men want to see more gender equality in the workplace, they want to see more women raised up but they don't know how to help. And they don't know what to do is one problem, and the fear that if they step up to help they'll be singled out in some way," Onvural said. On Friday, all Bonobos employees, including store associates, will spend a half day participating in a training on male allyship. For corporate employees and those in New York that will be in-person, and for store associates across the country that will take place with a mix of live and recorded trainings, she said.

Gender equality is something that Onvural is deeply, personally passionate about. "I think as a female CEO I have a really unusual opportunity if I so desire to take it, which I do, to really drive this agenda forward within my company obviously. But also have other people look to what we're doing and see it can have real impact on our company and our culture."

As a pioneer in the direct-to-consumer digitally native space and now a role model for how to keep a social mission intact when bought out by one of the larger retail players, Onvural said she hopes other brands will follow suit. That said, there's a reason why social missions play well at a company like Bonobos, and not so well at a company like Gillette — which received mixed reviews earlier this year for a campaign about toxic masculinity.

"When I boil that all down as to: why did Gillette get a backlash and why didn't we or Nike? It was really [about] authenticity," she said. "In our campaign last summer, we had 172 real men saying what masculinity meant to them. With Kaepernick and Nike, he was talking and with Gillette it was actors taking on a role. And I think that's a really important difference and with this campaign, as: how does it come across as nonpreachy, I think it's because it's in our actions with how we operate as a brand, my story as a leader, the way I lead my organization now."

A lot of the social mission comes down to a philosophy of leadership culture, on the part of Onvural and Bonobos Founder Andy Dunn, who handed off the CEO spot to Onvural last year.

"Bonobos was founded by a man who believed the world would be a better place if it were run by women and then he handed his baby, Bonobos, to a woman," she said. "He often says the success we've seen in the last year or so actually couldn't have been achieved by a man."

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